How Sunderland would fare under every possible 'sporting merit' solution to settle the League One promotion race

The EFL have maintained their firm stance this week that they still intend to complete the current season, if and when it is safe to do so.
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A number of hurdles remain.

Firstly, any return is dependent on an improvement on the health situation across the nation and the subsequent green light from the government to return.

Secondly, the EFL has already publicly accepted that in order to protect players and staff, an extensive and regular testing programme will need to be implemented. They have said that this must not interfere with the testing of key workers, and there are significant financial costs to consider.

Sunderland's promotion hopes are hanging in the balance as the EFL tries to plot a return to actionSunderland's promotion hopes are hanging in the balance as the EFL tries to plot a return to action
Sunderland's promotion hopes are hanging in the balance as the EFL tries to plot a return to action
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As such, it is clear that an early conclusion to the campaign is a possibility and should that be the case, the EFL will have a big decision to make.

They will either have to declare campaign null and void, or settle key issues on ‘sporting merit’ calculations.

Beyond that, there is the issue of how many teams to promote and whether relegation will be in play.

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Clearly, there will in this regard be a trickle-down effect from how the Premier League concludes its campaign. If they do finish their season and relegate three teams, it will give the EFL significantly more leeway in its solutions.

In League One, the debate over will be particularly fierce given the ferociously contested promotion push (and at the bottom, where the final relegation spot is anything but settled).

Coventry City may have established a solid lead but there are just three points separating third from ninth.

Settling a second automatic promotion place, or establishing who would compete in a potential play-off contest (if this was deemed feasible when completing the full fixture list is not), will be a difficult task.

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Here, we lay out what each of the touted ‘sporting merit’ calculations from across the continent would mean for Sunderland and their promotion hopes….


This appears to be the most likely method the EFL would settle on.

It is the preferred method in France, who brought their campaigns to an early conclusion after the government said there would be no football of any kind until September.

There have already been threats of legal challenges but it looks to have delivered broadly fair conclusions.

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In League One, it would produce few changes to the current table.

Wycombe Wanderers would be the main beneficiaries but their rise would not be enough to overhaul Rotherham United.

The big losers would be Peterborough United, given that they would drop out of the top six despite having five home games (where their record is exceptional) to play.

Sunderland would drop one place.

Coventry City (1.97)

Rotherham United (1.77)

Wycombe Wanderers (1.74)

Oxford United (1.71)

Portsmouth (1.71)

Fleetwood Town (1.71)

Peterborough United (1.69)

Sunderland (1.64)

Doncaster Rovers (1.57)


In this method, the average PPG won by teams both home and away is calculated.

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They are then awarded points by multiplying those numbers by 22.

This is the method that has been used in Rugby Union, with Newcastle Falcons now set for promotion.

It arguably serves as a better indicator of the trends established this season and produces an outcome closer to what teams might have been expected to produce in the final games based on the season so far.

For Sunderland, it would not be greatly beneficial given that they have just three games left at the Stadium of Light, where they have been far stronger this season.

Coventry City (86.71)

Rotherham United (77.86)

Oxford United (75.92)

Fleetwood Town (74.99)

Peterborough United (74.92)

Wycombe Wanderers (74.71)

Portsmouth (74.63)

Sunderland (71.18)

Doncaster Rovers (68.39)


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One of the alternative methods proposed by the French governing bodies as they discussed which ‘sporting method’ solution to implement was to effectively cut the season off at the halfway stage.

But rather than taking the tally of points each time had after they reached 22 games, they would have counted only the first result between every team this season.

It would be hugely controversial in League One, and would see Rotherham and Sunderland just miss out on the play-off positions.

The big winners would be Wycombe Wanderers, who would be declared champions after their outstanding start to the campaign.


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The altogether more radical option of completing the season via the pools panel is one that has been suggested by Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt.

Though unlikely to gain traction, his point is that it makes no sense for clubs to burn through their cash reserves completing the current season behind closed doors.

He wants his club to ‘hibernate’ until fans can return.

The pools panel certainly throws up a more interesting table, currently predicting that going into the final game of the season (which would be kicking off as you read), Sunderland and Rotherham would be level on points in sixth and seventh as they faced each other at the New York Stadium.

Ahead of the final day of the season, the pools panel table looks like this….

Coventry City (88)

Fleetwood Town (78)

Peterborough United (77)

Portsmouth (77)

Oxford United (76)

Sunderland (75)

Rotherham United (75)

Doncaster Rovers (68)

Wycombe Wanderers (68)


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It is very difficult to see any way in which Sunderland are promoted if the campaign does not resume.

Their hopes would clearly be best served in the reported eight-team ‘mini-league’ to determine a promotion winner, though sources at the EFL this week told the Echo that such a plan has not been discussed amongst clubs at this stage.

The four-game winless run, culminating in the abject defeat at Bristol Rovers in the final game before the postponement of fixtures, could prove to be immensely costly.

Had they won at the Memorial Stadium, their PPG would rise to 1.72. Not enough to put them in top-two territory, but certainly enough to put them in the mix for any potential play-off campaign if there was a third promotion spot and the potential to fulfill those fixtures later in the summer.

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New CEO Jim Rodwell has said that if football resumes, the ‘best prepared team’ will push through the pack to snatch a promotion place.

As it stands, it looks likely to be Sunderland’s only hope of avoiding a third season in League One.